by Joshua Silva
On June 2nd, 2019, 23-year-old black man Miles Hall was shot and killed by the Walnut Creek Police Department after they were called to de-escalate his mental health episode. Exactly one year later, his name, along with George Floyd’s, Breonna Taylor’s, and countless others’, echoed through the throng of protestors in Downtown Walnut Creek. As war zones metastasized overnight across America, police streaked the skies of our suburb with tear gas, aiming to extinguish the chants. Instead, protests continue to this day. While the media coverage and weapons of war have vanished, citizens still take to the streets demanding Justice for Miles Hall. Their second demand, which didn’t enter the political discourse until Floyd’s murder, is to defund the police.
Because of its recency and rigid simplicity, the term “defund the police” can seem scary, conjuring fear of a society helpless to stop robberies or murders, but the key to understanding it is to view such crimes as a symptom of an oppressive society, rather than a series of isolated incidents.
In June, Minneapolis became one of the first cities to take action, pledging to dismantle the MPD. A city with an 18.6% African-American population, their police department accounted for 35.8% of their budget in 2017. According to the FBI, a Minneapolis resident has a 1 in 124 chance of being a violent crime victim. In Walnut Creek, which allocates about the same percentage of their budget to law enforcement, the chances are 1 in 618, yet Walnut Creek had SWAT vehicles, tear gas, and sponge-tipped bullets at the ready to respond to looting, which WCPD Police Captain Jay Hill said he’d never seen before in his 23 years on the force.
“If we’re talking about spending on military-style equipment, a deeply troubling trend in law enforcement, then yeah, I’d speculate that [the large police budget] probably does encourage the…mentality that more likely would lead to use of those tools,” says Daniel Speir, a History teacher at Las Lomas. These abuses of power are inherent to the power, and that power is solidified by blatant unaccountability. Like dozens of other officers guilty of murder, Miles Hall’s killers, Melissa Murphy and KC Hsiao, are still on active duty. Not only would defunding the police diminish this power, but it would redirect to institutions which rehabilitate and not punish. Though he does not support “significant defunding to WCPD”, Speir also believes that “a serious review of what jobs we expect the police to do should be made. Following this review, shifting certain duties, like maybe responding to domestic disputes, to different agencies that specialize in conflict de-escalation (and don’t carry guns) would be a good idea. Money to fund those agencies could come partly from the police budget.” According to the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 10% of the police’s relations with the public involve people with mental illness. The shooting of Miles Hall was part of that 10%, and if there were an agency trained in de-escalation instead of brandishing guns, he might still be alive.
Those calling to defund the police do not want anarchy or revenge, but compassion. If law enforcement can rehabilitate rather than punish, we can build a safer, more just society. Defunding the police would not turn the community upside down, but right side up.